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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 11 Hansard (Wednesday, 10 November 2021) . . Page.. 3231 ..

MS STEPHEN-SMITH (Kurrajong—Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Minister for Families and Community Services and Minister for Health) (11.36): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

The Public Health Amendment Bill clarifies and strengthens the operation of the key enforcement mechanism for compliance with emergency public health orders under the Public Health Act 1997. The bill makes temporary changes to the Public Health Act that are necessary to ensure that the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic can continue to effectively address public health risks. These changes are particularly important as we move into the next phase of the public health response, with the ACT enjoying some of the highest rates of COVID-19 vaccination internationally but with the continuing uncertainty about the impact on transmission rates.

The territory has done an amazing job, following the public health emergency directions, in getting vaccinated. The ACT has achieved the significant milestone of 95 per cent of the population 12 and over fully vaccinated. This does not mean we can rest on our laurels. We must all continue to do what we can to slow the spread of the virus and keep our families, friends and community safe.

It is important that agencies on the ground have appropriate and proportionate tools to support the public health response to COVID-19. Since March 2020 ACT government compliance agencies have worked to mature their approach to COVID-19 engagement and compliance. Details of the approach are outlined in the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Directions—Compliance engagement and enforcement framework.

The framework is publicly available on the ACT government COVID-19 website. Its regulatory approach is closely modelled on Access Canberra’s risk-based “engage, educate, enforce” escalating regulatory model which emphasises working with businesses and the community to achieve voluntary compliance where possible. The framework ensures the ACT government’s regulatory approach to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Directions aligns with existing regulatory principles and practices across government.

The amendments proposed in the bill do not reflect a change in the government’s approach to compliance. The ACT has been very successful in its management of COVID-19, including through compliance activities. Through direct engagement with businesses and community groups, the ACT government compliance agencies have been able to support a shared understanding of the rules and build stronger stakeholder relationships.

This engagement has included a range of strategies, from one-on-one, in-person engagement to communication via email and direct messaging, webinars with businesses and peak bodies, as well as the use of social media. Understandably, each change to the Public Health Emergency Directions is accompanied by questions from industry about how the new directions will affect a business and the community.

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